The National Science Foundation awarded a University of Hawaiʻi assistant professor one of its most prestigious awards for junior faculty. Sladjana Prišić, assistant professor in the microbiology department, received a $999,625 grant for a five-year term from the National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development program.

The award is bestowed on teacher-scholars pursuing cutting-edge research while simultaneously advancing excellence in education.

Prišić’s project focuses on how bacteria adjust protein production to match their cellular needs. All living organisms manufacture proteins using complex molecular machines called ribosomes, the number of which is tightly regulated to meet demands. However, not all ribosomes have the same composition and structure. Such differences among ribosomes may influence the kind of proteins that bacteria can make at any given time. Thus, changes in the ribosome population in response to diverse signals are likely to reshape the protein composition of the cell and its physiology.

“Knowing how to manipulate protein synthesis, or providing new ways to do so, may significantly enhance biotechnology, ecological engineering and sustainability,” said Prišić.

She plans to work with graduate and undergraduate students who will mentor and train students one step junior to them, guiding them in “traditional” and advanced scientific techniques that match their proficiency with various areas of the project.

In addition to maximizing training opportunities, this approach allows undergraduate and high school students to have role models with whom they identify. The mentorship system will broaden participation, and will aid in empowering women and other groups to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

More about Prišić

Prišić earned her BSc and PhD degrees in biochemistry from the University of Belgrade and Iowa State University, respectively. She was a research associate at Boston Children’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School before joining the Department of Microbiology at UH Mānoa in August 2014.

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